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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Almost two hundred march for Mabo



On June 3, 1992, the High Court handed down its decision in the Mabo case; overturning 200 years of the common law assumption of terra nullius - the idea that Australia belonged to no-one when European settlers arrived.


Eddie Mabo, who had dedicated his life to winning the land rights to his and his ancestors' Torres Strait Island home of Mer, died seven months before the judgment was handed down.


The historic judgment was commemorated in Townsville, where 180 people marched through the streets and celebrated with traditional song and dance on the city's waterfront.


Indigenous academic Gracelyn Smallwood, who gave the welcome to country, said although it was a significant milestone, native title is causing dysfunction in indigenous communities.


She said land councils now work for mining companies and the government and not for the people.


"White lawyers have a lot of control and say on the current legislation, they are the ones getting all the money. Just opinionated native title applicants from each family are getting the money," she told AAP.


"By the time it reaches the grass roots level, in all those poverty-stricken communities, it's like showing a piece of raw steak amongst the pack of hungry wolves and everybody is fighting over the crumbs."


She also said because of the stolen generation, indigenous people are finding it difficult to prove ongoing connection to the land since 1788, as required for a determination.


Chairman of the National Native Title Council, Brian Wyatt, said the current process, where the onus is on the claimants, is far too onerous.


There are currently 450 unresolved claims.


"I think it is unjust that they have to prove who they are," he told AAP.


Mr Wyatt said, however, that after 20 years, Australians are more comfortable with Native Title declarations than they ever have been.


"But it has been quite a stormy ride," he said.


A total of 141 native title declarations have been made, representing 16 per cent of the Australian land mass.


Chairman of the National Native Title Council, Brian Wyatt, said the current process, where the onus is on the claimants, is far too onerous.


There are currently 450 unresolved claims.


"I think it is unjust that they have to prove who they are," he told AAP.


Mr Wyatt said, however, that after 20 years, Australians are more comfortable with Native Title declarations than they ever have been.


"But it has been quite a stormy ride," he said.


A total of 141 native title declarations have been made, representing 16 per cent of the Australian land mass.


Federal Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin said the Mabo decision was the turning point for reconciliation.
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